Geohazards and Large Geographically Distributed Systems

2009 Rankine Lecture

Professor Tom O’Rourke

Geotechnical engineers play a critical role in managing the performance of large geographically distributed systems that are affected by geohazards such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and landslides. Systems, such as water supplies, levees, and gas and liquid fuel supply networks, may cover thousands of km2 and may be subject to many different ground response and geotechnical failure mechanisms. The geotechnical factors affecting system behaviour have broad implications for life safety and regional economic stability.

The lecture will explore the geotechnical aspects of large system behaviour during extreme natural events, starting with the performance of system components under extreme conditions of soil-structure interaction. The results of large-scale laboratory tests of underground pipeline response to ground rupture will be summarized. The results will be used to illustrate how such testing not only improves our understanding of complex soil-structure interaction, but leads to improvements in geotechnical instrumentation and modelling of soil behaviour. The geotechnical factors affecting regional system response to geohazards will be examined with reference to earthquake effects on the Los Angeles and San Francisco water distribution networks as well as hurricane effects on both the New Orleans levee system and Gulf of Mexico oil and gas pipeline supply network. The lecture will explore the implications of recent earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand and the Tohoku, Japan earthquake with respect to low probability/high consequence events and the worldwide need to protect critical infrastructure.

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